Why Embracing Community Matters

Why Embracing Community Matters

Erica Burgos joined me on the first ever faith feast serves day. I asked her to write about her experience and this is what she had to say:

When I first heard that the Faith Feast was organizing a volunteer day, I immediately signed up. I’ve wanted to get more involved in the community and using my time to help feed those in need seemed like a great way to give back.

 

After arriving at the food bank, the Faith Feast ladies and I were placed on the produce team. We were told to make bags with all the good pears while separating out and discarding the misunderstoodpears. We all took our places, lined up on opposite sides of long commercial equipment stands and began sorting pears while 90’s hits blasted in background. Two and a half hours later, after dozens of volunteers had finished their assigned tasks, we were then informed that our hard work had produced over 25,000 meals for families in need! As incredible as that feat was, as I look back on that day, I am reminded that although I was doing something to bless others, I was blessed in the process. Without even realizing it, I had not only become part of a larger community of volunteers but I'd also become part of a community of women who lived their faith without hesitation.

 

Just like those pears we were asked to separate out, I too have often felt misunderstood. In high school, friendships came easy but as time went on, I have found it difficult to cultivate the kind of lasting friendships my soul was longing for.  A part of me started to doubt whether I was even supposed to establish those relationships that so many others seemed to have found. But I was reminded that God has always intended for us to be in community with others.

 

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the promise. But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near.” Ephesians 2:12

 

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people. In him the whole building is joined together. And in him you too are being built together.” - Ephesians 2:19-22

 

That morning, I was bearing witness to God’s intentions as He surrounded me with people who truly wanted to know me.  In working along side this incredibly diverse group of women, hearing about their struggles, their hopes, and their dreams, I recognized that they too, had prayed for togetherness, prayed for the opportunity to minister to others, and prayed to find understanding in those who also felt misunderstood.

 

That day I realized that God was not ignoring my desire for meaningful relationships, He was just answering in ways I didn’t quite expect. These ladies may not be people I speak to on a daily basis- we don’t have slumber parties or escape on a girls’ weekend together but they are women who will ask me the tough questions. They are women who know the Word, who will speak the Truth in love, and who will pray on my behalf even when I don’t ask for it. We may not be sharing in every moment of each other’s lives but we are sharing in a mission to love others as God has loved us. I’ve often heard that God doesn’t promise that this life is going to be easy but He does provides people who will help us carry our burdens.

 

It is in these seemingly small interactions we have with those that God puts in our lives, these people who may not be who we thought they were, who will help make us into who we are called to be.

 

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

 

 

If you are looking to meet some new women in Chicago, come join me at the Seed to Bloom workshop on May 19th! Tickets are available now!

How to Fight for Joy

How to Fight for Joy

By Hanha Hobson

 

I have seen the Pinterest quote, "Today, I choose joy," all the time, and I love the quote, but I see it EVERYWHERE. I've always been one to challenge the status quo, so I'm not going to lie. It bothers me. Yes, I want to choose joy, but this isn't some passive task as though I'm running through a sunflower field. No! Sometimes, choosing joy is hard and honestly, I may not want to. Haven't you heard that I'm the reigning host of the pity party?

 

But then I realized, that's okay. I'm different because I'm not choosing joy, I'm fighting for it. And maybe you can relate? 

 

I heard this sermon awhile back, and I love how God will give us layaway messages for future seasons. God must have known that I would need it for the season that I’m currently facing. But the pastor said that an indication you're close to victory is the level of attack you receive prior to it. He said, stronger the attack, closer AND greater the promise. 

 

So if you feel like you are being spiritually attacked - you lost your job, you don't know what you're supposed to be doing with your life, you have been arguing with your spouse, or you are overwhelmed with how busy your life is - be encouraged! Why would the enemy attack anything that doesn't have meaning? That's counter intuitive for him. If anything, it’s an indication that what you’re doing is important. It’s significant. It matters. YOU matter. The job coming must be better, the career you choose must be important, your marriage must be special, and your purpose must have power. 

 

You need to understand that the enemy will do anything to stop you from achieving the purpose that God has for you. And cue my favorite quote for anytime you feel like you're going through a season where your joy is being compromised. 

 

"If the devil can't stop your destiny, he will settle for stealing your joy on the journey."

 

So now that you know this, let's talk about some practical ways that you can fight for joy especially when you don't want to. 

 

1.Get your Sass Back

 

We must have a sense of urgency. Think about when you were in school and you would have fire drills. Most of the time, it was a casual experience because you knew that there wasn't a real fire. Many of us look at our spiritual lives in the same way.

 

We don't take it seriously. We think it's a game. Many of us are walking around honestly oblivious - myself included! But this is where it ends. I feel like the enemy is the ONLY person where we can have an attitude. Let him know that you are FED. UP. Let him know that he can't mess with you, that he can't have your purpose, your marriage, and your friends.

 

If you find yourself struggling with joy, repeat after me, I WILL NOT HAVE IT. The joy of the Lord is my strength! (Nehemiah 8:10) If you notice or hear that voice that doesn't align with God's word, tell the devil he is a liar! (John 8:44).

 

We need to be mindful of our natural defaults to life situations. Take some time to reflect on yours. Do you normally get sad and want to cry? Do you get lazy and unproductive, retreating to eating and laying in bed all day? Do you normally get angry and want to tell someone off?

 

Identify your responses, and then identity the triggers that cause you to respond that way. Having this self-awareness is HUGE. The enemy will do anything to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10) and he knows exactly where you are vulnerable, even when you may not. But once you are self-aware, your spiritual senses can be heightened. You will be able to detect when you are being attacked, and then you can use your offensive weapon, the sword of the Spirit, aka God's Word, to fight for your joy. 

 

2. Get Dressed

 

Sometimes we want to mope around. Trust me, I know firsthand how to do this! Like I said, reigning queen and host of the pity party. Like I just described above, my natural response is to cry about everything. But it's time that I abdicate my throne. Someone else can host the pity party, okay?!

 

Get up, get dressed, and boss up! Put on your favorite outfit. If you need to put on those false lashes and that bold lip and head to work or school knowing good and well that you never wear makeup, do it anyways. You might even take a bomb selfie that will help with your IG feed.. LOL just kidding, but there is power in what I like to call, "feelin' yourself." I'm not saying that this outward appearance is the end all, be all because it's not. Our hearts are what matters, but it's so true what they say. When you look good, you feel good! 

 

Allow yourself to feel good. Be proactive about making small changes that will help you feel better on the inside. You would be amazed at how a good outfit or a nice pair of heels will make you feel like you can conquer anything. But spoiler alert? You already have the victory, so it's okay for you to look the part! 

 

3. Stop Complaining

 

Your mouth can most definitely be your undoing. Do not let it be the snare to your very life! (Proverbs 18:7). 

 

I was sitting in the car with my mom after church one Sunday, and I said that being an adult is so hard LOL. Immediately, my mom said that if I kept saying that, then that is what my life would be. Now you know that I was slightly bitter because I didn’t want to hear what she had to say, but she is so right!

 

We need to be careful of these same moments - moments when we want to sit in our own sorrow or frustration. Complaining is the straightest and clearest path for you to walk right out of the will of God. Do not give the enemy a foothold. Be intentional with your words, and choose to speak life over yourself instead.

 

If you struggle with doing this, then I encourage you to sign up for #TheConfessionsProject. Start your week off right with a free weekly confession and devotion every Monday! You will be given a list of confessions that you can speak over your life along with a short devotional that will help keep you encouraged. But of course, I give these tips with the most important one being to seek God in everything. He is your refuge and shield. He will take care of you, and thanks be to God that He will always be on our side fighting for us.

 

p.s. Hanha has just released her newest ebook called Jesus is Bae! Check it out here!

You Look Tired

You Look Tired

You Look Tired

 

By Ericka Vaughn Byrne

 

You look tired. I know I know. I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to say something encouraging and uplifting, but the truth is, you look tired. Maybe it’s the smile that doesn’t quite reach your eyes, the heaviness of your shoulders, or maybe it’s because I recognize the same thing in myself. January can be rough. We’re coming down from the Holiday trifecta which is Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years – it’s like the crash after a sugar high – it felt so good, how could it now feel so bad (shakes her fist towards the sky). How many parties did you go to exactly? How many times did you say no (to yourself) and yes (to everything else)? How much did you go over budget on gifts and food and whatnots because who can really live life without whatnots and thingamados, right? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. And now it is February. How? Already??

 

I’m not here to judge because let me be clear, I’ve been tired for a while. I’m slowly weaning myself off of the sugar high that is busyness. I noticed I was hurrying home from my workday and I was continuing that hurry into the other parts of my day. I was hurrying to get groceries, I was hurrying to unpack, I was hurrying to go out with friends. Hurrying to spend time with my hubs. I was continuing the hustle and bustle of my job into the rest of my life as if there were no other options. As if that was the way it had to be. When in fact, I am much more in charge of the pace of my life then I realize, or I allow myself to be. I COULD in fact stop. And the world would not fall apart. A relief and a devastation all in the same breath. Relief that I could rest and not lose the life I’d created. Devastating to realize that the role you play in “the world” is often smaller than you’d like to acknowledge. The world does keep moving, and people keep living. You are not the person holding everything up. A relief and a devastation.

 

I get it. I really do. I am a self-proclaimed Chronic Hustler. Chronic Hustlers raise your hands (I’m here!) Y’all. I hustled to follow my dreams. I had 3 to 4 jobs, leaving well before seven and not arriving back home to sometimes after midnight (hello artist life). I was involved in 10 things at once, and I thought I was creating the life that I wanted, a world in which I desired to live.  I have very high, often unrealistic, expectations of myself. There is an internal code of conduct I live by. One that stems from my family of origin, key experiences I’ve had in formative years of my life and growing up as a “millennial” driven by social media and the perfectionistic appearance of all things. Really I was just creating a world in which I could not survive. I hit a wall, and I crashed. Hard.

 

I was slapped out of my perfectionism because I couldn’t keep those standards. I failed. And I hated it. I always hate being forced to reckon with my frail humanity. Sad on multiple fronts. I’ve done a lot of soul searching (counseling-more on that later), and I’ve come to realize that I only failed at something that was unwinnable. I failed at being perfect because no one is perfect. But I did succeed in being human. My body succeeded in getting to me a message it had been trying to tell me for a long time. “Ericka, you care more for others than you care for us. We’re tired and need rest. We’re weary of this fast-moving train. Sick to our stomachs. Stop this madness. Please.”

 

And in that dark place, I call it sitting in the mud, Tribian @brenebrown calls it being on the floor of the arena, I wrestled. I wrestled with myself, with my addiction to please and protect others instead of protecting myself. I wrestled with my lack of boundaries, how I’d given others permission to run into me and over me. Again and again. I realized the part I’d had to play. I realized I was drawn to fast pace, high expectation environments. I was addicted to the hustle and bustle.

 

I understand what it means to hustle to prove yourself and to fight for your place at the “table.” But I feel like there’s something not quite right with that. It dawned on me that maybe I’ve been misdirecting my energy trying to be at the wrong table. The table I belong at has elbow room. Breathing room. Space. It’s fun and light-hearted. It’s freedom. When you choose yourself over everything else you find freedom.

 

I guess I want to share with you hope. The hope of knowing yourself and owning who you are, fully and truly. The hope of change, of realizing you have the power to change and alter the course of your life. May you find the strength to slow down and be WITH yourself and FOR yourself and TRUE to yourself.

 

(adapted chapter from Trans-Tagonist follow the link to read more)

All Photos by Erin Channell

When Life Feels Clogged

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When Life Feels Clogged

When Life Feels Clogged

By Rachel Clair 

I sat on my couch on a snowy morning in early January. It was cold outside, around 10 degrees to be exact, so I curled up underneath a plush grey blanket and opened my Bible.

 

Mark 1:35-39: 

 

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.”

But Jesus replied, “We must go on to the other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.”

So he traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.

 

If you’re like me, then January is a time to refresh and reset. We finish up our evaluating, our pondering and reflecting on the previous year, then we fix our eyes on what’s ahead.

 

We take a deep breath; we exhale; and we say, “What do I want this new year to be?”

 

I asked myself this question several times in the waking weeks of 2018. I entered this year with a lot of open space in my mind and open time in my schedule. I had big plans to take it easy, to relax, to pray, and to write because that’s what I felt like God was calling me to do. But somehow, between January 1 and 31, that space began to clog up, and I lost sight of what this year was supposed to be

 

I didn’t realize this was happening at first. This clogged up state of being happens so often it just seemed like my natural way to live. I constantly turn over so many “what if,” “how to,” what about this,” and “what about that” questions that there’s really no space for anything else to exist inside me.

 

However, as I sat on my couch reading Mark on that snowy, early-January day, I was drawn to the way that Jesus prayed:

 

Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. 

 

Jesus was busy a guy. He had a lot to do and a lot of people to see. He had a full schedule, and people were literally following him around ALL THE TIME asking him to do stuff for them. Nevertheless, Jesus stopped and he prayed. He went to an isolated place, and it was in that isolated place of prayer that Jesus became open to all that God wanted to do in and through him.

 

Now, I’ve heard this message before. 

 

You know, the one where someone tells me that it’s important to spend time alone with God. The one where someone explains that I need God to fill me up so I can do the work he’s has called me to do. But the thing that struck me about these verses is that after praying, Jesus was able to see past the immediate needs of now and trust that God was already taking care of the how. 

 

Mark tells us that when Simon and the others found Jesus they said, “Everyone is looking for you!” 

 

I laughed when I read this, imagining what else was likely said:

 

“Jesus! Come on! There’s a crowd! There’s stuff to do! People are counting on you! Get out there and get stuff done!”

 

While Jesus was God, he was also fully human. We know for a fact that he wasn’t immune to temptation so I have to imagine that this high stress job of healing people and forgiving sins caused the occasional anxious thought to slip through the cracks of his mind. If I were Jesus, I would probably become so overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to fix every problem that I’d eventually just give up and watch Netflix (thus, crowding my mind again, with something other than God).

 

But Jesus knew that if he was going to survive the pressures of ministry, he needed to sit back and tap into the power of God. He needed to do this not only to fill his soul, but also to clear it so he could see the bigger picture of what God was working out through him.

 

Too often, when we don’t take time to pause, we become blinded by the immediate and miss out on the eternal. Anxiety narrows our focus, but God opens it up.

 

“We must go on to the other towns as well,and I will preach to them, too,” Jesus said. 

“That is why I came.”

 

Jesus knew he didn’t need to worry about the everyone Simon was referring to – the pressing crowds, the demands, the responsibilities. He knew God called him to spread the good news to everyone, and if that calling left one town a little bit undone, God had a plan to take care of it. 

 

I keep thinking about this level of openness and surrender that Jesus constantly lived in. It’s magnetic. It’s desirable. It seems scary and almost unattainable. 

 

I’m not sure what your plans for 2018 were, but my guess is that something is already threatening to clog up and crowd out the things you felt God leading you towards. 

 

For me, the clogging has come in the form of worry, of financial responsibility, of work that was left undone at my previous job, and by fear that I’ll just never get life figured out and will always be in a state of flux. Fear, worry, uncertainty. That’s what’s clogging me up.

 

For Jesus, it was literal crowds and more work than he could humanly handle that threatened to clog him up and drown out the peace and plan God had for him.

 

I believe God has open spaces for all of us in 2018. He has depth and breadth. He has time and ability. He has peace and a plan. If you’re two months into 2018 and already feeling clogged up and crowded out the same way I am, ask God to show you what it looks like to be open today. Ask him to help you trust him with your future and your fears. Take your eyes off the immediate and off the right now, and thank God for already taking care of and walking you through the how. 

Check out my other blogs at The Sunday Afternoon Blog

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